Slavery’s Legacy of Impurity
c. October 14-16, 1895 — The National Purity Congress, Park Avenue Friends’ Meeting House, Baltimore MD
This subject is so full of disagreeable, heart-sickening facts, that the truth should only be spoken to awaken a desire to help the many who do not yet realize there is in them a spirit “made in the image of God.” We who were called to labor in our country, darkened by the blight of slavery, find the roots of impurity so deeply imbedded in the animal nature that a generation has made little progress in weeding them out. Thirty years of missionary work in the South forces the conviction that the blackest shadow lies on the white race.
Impurity robbed the slave of the sacredness of parentage; it destroyed the holiness of motherhood; it separated those whom God had joined together and put their children, created in the love of the Lord, on the auction block for gold. It tore asunder the home; it rent in twain the families that God had set together; it robbed men of their divine right of fatherhood; it gave children to women whose fathers they would not have chosen.
It whitened African blood without law or gospel. Impurity was permitted and often encouraged between sexes and colors in little children, and thus at an early age they began to increase the slave market; many a young man’s ”first-born” was sold to the highest bidder.
The mother of six children when asked why her mother had not taught her how to cut out a baby’s dress, or iron the clothes after washing them, replied: “My mother could teach us nothing; she was too good a field hand and too good a breeder; she brought nineteen children to her master;” then added in a most pathetic tone, ” she was only allowed nine days when we was born, then sent back to the field. An old woman took care of us, sending the baby to the field to be nursed. They made me marry at fourteen years of age, told me nothing, and when my baby was born I wanted to kill it; I wouldn’t look at it for two days. I hated it, cause of my pains.”
The market value of every coming child was calculated as a dairyman does his Jerseys.
This terrible excrescence of animalism can only be overcome by an education that teaches there is no sex in sin, it is neither male or female, and that the Lord holds a man responsible for his children whether he feels accountable or not.
A sad part is that a profession of Christianity puts little restraint on what too many ministers, especially of the colored race, call ”nature.” This is the excuse in the minds of wrong doers who have been well educated in theological schools by money donated to “educate ministers.” The ministry used as a stepping stone to an education and with no struggle of mind or manual labor to meet expenses, loose rein was given to inherited tendencies. While studying for the ministry honest labor and manual training would have curbed the surplus of animal passion. Oh, that those good people who gave of their substance had been wiser and required those being educated for the ministry to labor with hands as well as brains. On this rock many smart men out of slavery have wrecked their own moral character and been followed by church members. Purity of life was not a requisite to become a member of any denomination in either race. When a young man was reproved (he was the son of a minister) for wasting his money on women and asked if he was not a church member he replied, “Yes, I grew up in Sunday School and have studied my Bible well, but never found where Adam and Eve were married, yet they had children.”
He was asked if he knew what Jesus said. “Yes, that was adultery with another man’s wife, but these women ain’t married — got no husbands.” This, with many worse facts, proved to us that the Bible is often used to cover and lessen the responsibility of sinning. It is a two edged sword in the hands of babes, and it takes courage to warn regarding the possible wrong of giving it to children or to men with minds not developed and trained to rule the animal nature. The rebound of slavery left two races to guide themselves by feelings instead of principles.
There are no young lives in America that have as much to contend with as the young colored women, often pretty and attractive and more solicited when they can read and write notes for appointments, or tales of “undying affection,” and have been under refining influences.
We stood by the coffin of a beautiful girl of twenty years, whose rich English father had died suddenly and the property he left her colored mother, since dead, lessened in the lawyers’ hands. Her boarding school knowledge and inherited refinement (father and grandfather white) added to her attractiveness. We looked on the still face and felt she had been called with her babe to “go and sin no more.” Then arose within us a strong pity and compassion, with yearning to help the young white men who were sharers in her shame, whose arms had caressed her and whose money had decked her body and paid for the costly coffin.
In an interview with the white clergyman where they attended church, and offering to help save them, sons of respectable parents, he said, ”nothing we could tell would equal what he knew.”
The communion bread and wine had been offered in white churches by men who led colored school girls from the path of virtue, and most of the men in the congregation knew it.
What minister dare touch the sin of slavery and remain in the South during its existence! Free speech of the truth of impurity is still barred and bolted by custom and inheritance, while the messages of the Lord wait for utterance.
Did these things end with slavery? No! no! no! The trail of the serpent is everywhere. A Northern teacher had to write to a public official, saying a certain young woman was a teacher in her school because, he had made a vile proposition when she went to the court house on business about the land she had earned. That official moved in the best society. One cannot conceive the feelings of modest, retiring, educated and refined colored women who know they are never safe from the insults of white men, or the temptation to a life of ease, luxury and a comfortable home, often with an affection that lasts for years, for the fathers frequently support and educate their children.
The pitiful part is that the best families are not yet awakened to the shame of such wrongs. First-class lawyers have been known to go to a colored man in a campaign and say, “I know you are my half brother now I want you to vote for Mr. _____”
There is a darker side yet, fulfilling the truth of the words that the sins of the fathers shall be visited on their children. It does not say on sons only, and daughters inherit from fathers and have become mothers of babes whose fathers were mulatoes. These girls were often in the care of men house servants or coachmen, and after the birth of the child it was given to a slave woman and both put in the market. It is unnecessary to multiply cases or give more startling facts; the social evil is written everywhere in the color of the children born since the war. The city schools are bleached and most of the boarding schools whitened with it.
The stain of this Legacy of Impurity will outlast
the bondage of body and stripes to the flesh.
Source: The National Purity Congress, Its Papers, Addresses, Portraits: An Illustrated Record of the Papers and Addresses of the First National Purity Congress, Held Under the Auspices of the American Purity Alliance, in the Park Avenue Friends’ Meeting House, Baltimore, October 14, 15 and 16, 1895, ed. Aaron M. Powell (New York: The American Purity Alliance), 1896, pp. 174-177.